Readings on: Gems of thought — a vision that is more than the sum of these parts
The Uncharted surrounds us on every side and we must needs have some relation towards it. As far as knowledge and conscious reason will go, we should follow resolutely their austere guidance. Careful not to base our life on dreams; and remembering above all to walk gently in a world where the lights are dim and the very stars wander. [Gilbert Murray]
We may not be the center of the universe and the telos of evolution, but we are concrete embodiments of cosmic processes in their particular terrestrial variation. And, albeit accidentally, we did happen to evolve a most remarkable property: self-reflection [consciousness]. In virtue of this we may be among the very few natural systems in the universe which are able not only to sense the world and respond to it, but to know their own sensations and come to reasoned conclusions about the nature of the universe. [Ervin Laszlo]
The direction of time in the universe is marked by increasing disorder, by the growing randomness of the universe. The movement towards randomness is not uniform. Here and there, in the midst of the flow towards an average chaos, there are places where the flow is reversed for a time. The most remarkable of these reversals is life. It perpetuates itself against the disorder of time. [Jacob Bronowski]
[In the] search for the meaning of life and the purpose of the universe [we may] look for a single purport and a single end and not finding any, give up in despair and conclude that there is no genuine meaning and value in any of life’s episodes.
The alternatives are not exhaustive, however. There is no need of deciding between no meaning at all and one single, all-embracing meaning. There are many meanings and many purposes in the situations with which we are confronted— one, so to say, for each situation. Each offers its own challenge to thought and endeavor, and presents its own potential value. [John Dewey]
In spite of Death, the mark and seal of unthinking Nature, Man is yet free, during his brief years, to examine, to criticize, to know, and in imagination to create. To him alone this freedom belongs; and in this lies his superiority to the resistless forces that control his outward life. [Bertrand Russell]
There is today—in a time when old beliefs are withering—a kind of philosophical hunger, a need to know who we are and how we got here. There is an ongoing search, often unconscious, for a cosmic perspective for humanity. [Carl Sagan]
The ordinary surroundings of life which are esteemed by men to be the highest good, may be classed under the three heads—Riches, Fame, and the Pleasures of Sense: with these three the mind is so absorbed that it has little power to reflect on any different good.
Evils seem to have arisen from the fact, that happiness or unhappiness is made wholly dependent on the quality of the object which we love, [like Riches, Fame, and the Pleasures of Sense]. When a thing is not loved, no quarrels will arise concerning it — no sadness be felt if it perishes — no envy if it is possessed by another — no fear, no hatred, in short no disturbances of the mind. All these arise from the love of what is perishable, such as the objects already mentioned.
But love towards a thing eternal and infinite feeds the mind wholly with joy. [And that thing is] the knowledge of the union existing being the mind and the whole of nature. [Baruch Spinoza]
For all the complexity of modern scientific formulas, it is the same old sky with the same things beneath it. A pang of hunger or of love, a loaf of bread, a beautiful face, a stumbling in the dark or a burst of music are all the testimony and all the science I need to give me a sense of the hang of things.
I believe then in the common world of things as they are about us, the things I touch, see, taste, smell, hear, the world that earthy poets celebrate and that worldlings feast and wanton in. I believe also, though more superstitiously and not on such good evidence, that there is a kind of order in things.
I know I cannot live forever, but I know also that I can know and have experienced immortal things. The Good Life to my mind does not consist in scattered moments of felt delight, but in such a general pattern of living as would tend to fill life with richness and significance. [Irwin Edman]
Everywhere I see a living balance, a rippling tension, an enormous yet mysterious simplicity, an endless breathing of light. [John Fowles]
The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe. At each level of complexity entirely new properties appear, and the understanding of the new behaviors requires research which I think is as fundamental in its nature as any other…[and will show] how the whole becomes not only more than the sum of but very different from the sum of the parts.[P.W. Anderson]
In the course of time new complexity of motions comes into existence, a new quality emerges, that is, a new complex entity possesses as a matter of observed empirical fact a new or emergent quality... Physical and chemical processes of a certain complexity have the quality of life... The higher quality emerges from the lower level of existence and has its roots therein, but it emerges therefrom, and it... constitutes a new order of existence with its special laws of behaviour… Mind is, according to our interpretation of the facts, an ‘emergent’ from life. [Samuel Alexander]
It is now recognized that, quite generally, systems driven far from equilibrium tend to undergo abrupt spontaneous changes of behaviour. It has long seemed paradoxical that a universe apparently dying under the influence of the second law nevertheless continually increases its level of complexity and organization. We now see how it is possible for the universe to increase both organization and entropy at the same time. The optimistic and pessimistic arrows of time can coexist: the universe can display creative unidirectional progress even in the face of the second law.
It is hard to overemphasize the importance of the distinction between matter and energy in, or close to, equilibrium and far-from-equilibrium dissipative systems. Disequilibrium, ‘is the source of order’ in the universe; it brings ‘order out of chaos’.
It is as though, as the universe gradually unfolds from its featureless origin, matter and energy are continually being presented with alternative pathways of development: the active pathway leads to unpredictable, evolving complexity and variety. [Paul Davies]
Many complex systems appear to be irreducible. Made of many interlocking parts, they display a kind of synergy, obeying "higher organizing principles" that cannot be further simplified no matter how hard you try. If so, then solid-state physics, which specializes in how emergent phenomena occur, may be the most fundamental science of them all. When systems become very complex, completely new and independent laws emerge. [George Johnson]
An understanding of complex systems and their sensitivity to initial conditions can lead the way to reconciling deterministic physical laws with free will. “It is a general property of complex systems that above a certain threshold of complexity, new qualities emerge that are not only absent, but are simply meaningless at a lower conceptual level.” (Paul Davies) The brain is a chaotic system at once subject to deterministic laws but also partaking of the characteristics of chaotic systems, one of them being, abrupt transitions to new states through the action of minute triggers. One of the “new qualities,” or state, that emerges is consciousness with its attendant companion, free will.
Far-from-equilibrium systems, like living organisms, exhibit instabilities that make their future courses impossible to predict. They are bounded by the limits of physical laws but they have alternative ways of proceeding. (Richard Golden)
There is a stream of thought beginning with Democritus that has sedulously eschewed going beyond the world of phenomena, that has tried scrupulously to remain within the circle of experienced objects and events and their discoverable relations. This philosophy has tried to refrain from going to a world beyond the world, to a friend behind phenomena.
Naturalism is the name generally attached to that point of view in the history of thought.
The notion of a stable orderly cosmos in which given causes could plausibly be expected to have given effects, provided the clarity and the peace that comes with understanding. To believe that all effects have discoverable causes, all causes discoverable or calculable effects, is the irreducible “animal faith.” Without it men could not and would not plant seeds, roast meat, build boats, found schools or establish or maintain governments.
For the faith of the philosophical (not biological) naturalist is simply that there is something substantial, not our own invention with which we must deal. It holds further there are no breaks in the order of events; everything that happens has consequences, and to learn to discern those causes and consequences is to understand nature.
Sensitive spirits have been deeply hurt by the fact that all that constitutes human value and dignity finds no support, no guarantee, no moral status in the universe. [But] the division between man and nature is made more absolute in such a picture than it actually is. All man’s achievements are in a large sense nature’s too. Naturalism is simply a faith in the unity of nature… It is faith in causality… [It is an] expression of a faith that animates most human practice and must always to some degree have animated it, or human life would long ago have come to an end.
Man stands at the pinnacle of nature and looks beyond it to a world of Truth, Goodness and Beauty, not as a second shadow world, a super-nature, but as this world’s still unrealized, never completely to be realized, good. That vision of the best is itself a natural development, and so is the love of it which accompanies the vision. [Erwin Edman]
[With the appearance of humans] a fundamentally new sort of evolution has also appeared. The basis of this new sort of evolution is a new sort of heredity, the inheritance of learning. In the new evolution we can inherit directly from ancestors dead two thousand years… Our inheritance can be passed on, instantaneously or after a lapse of untold generations, to our whole species…
Is his place in nature, then, that of a mere accident, without significance? His rise was neither insignificant nor inevitable. Man did originate after a tremendously long sequence of events in which both chance and orientation played a part. Not all the chance favored his appearance none might have, but enough did. The result is the most highly endowed organization of matter that has yet appeared on the earth. To think that this result is insignificant would be unworthy of that high endowment, which includes among its riches a sense of values. [George Gaylord Simpson]
In the world picture resulting from the Darwinian upheaval of thought, man was no longer seen as standing over against nature. His place is in nature; he is as much a product of evolution as the animals and the plants. Nature is a single process. We may properly call it evolution, if we define evolution as a self-operating, self-transforming process which in its course generates both greater variety and higher levels of organization.
Modern man and his civilizations are thus in no sense a final product of evolution, but only a temporary phase in the process. The possibilities of improvement in the mental or psychological capacities of life had not been exhausted. Our knowledge thus now enables us to define man’s role as well as his place in nature. His role is to be the instrument capable of effecting major advances and of realizing new possibilities for evolving life. [Julian Huxley]
From the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. [Charles Darwin]